Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Erie Otters’ Robbie Ftorek back at work while grieving daughter’s death

The day-to-day grind of the hockey world is often pitiless, although many people in the game have good hearts. So one can only imagine the how much of a challenge Erie Otters coach Robbie Ftorek is facing as he tries to maintain a strong exterior in front of his players and maintain their trust, even as he grieves the loss of a child.

It's impossible to relate to what it must be like for parents to mourn one of their children. The former NHL bench boss and his spouse, Wendy, lost their 23-year-old daughter Anna Ftorek 6½ weeks ago after she collapsed at the family's New Hampshire home. Tuesday was the first time that Robbie Ftorek had run a practice since the devastating loss.

Hockey players can have just as much difficultly as most males do about discussing their emotions. Yet the bond on the ice has helped Ftorek, who has to be focused on his players.

From Victor Fernandes

Without the shared experience of hockey to talk about, those would have been difficult telephone calls for people so young to make.

And without hockey to talk about, those would have been difficult calls for the Erie Otters' coach to handle.

"I was appreciative of it," Ftorek, 60, said, "but I also wanted to allow them to feel comfortable because they're going to play off what I'm doing. The common denominator is hockey. That put them at ease, I hope." (Erie Times-News)

Closure, if indeed that's even a thing, won't come easily. In the short term, Ftorek has invested himself in his work, which includes helping the Otters rise from finishing with a Canadian Hockey League-low 10 wins last season.

Sherry Bassin, Otters managing partner and general manager, never asked if Ftorek needed more time with his family, though it would have been available without question. Bassin has seen Ftorek spend long days at the rink, with his skates on most of the time. He wouldn't have accepted the offer, Bassin said. Ftorek wants to be there for his players, just as he has been there for his family through this difficult time.

"He comes off hard, but he's a really, really good human being," Bassin said. "He's a caring individual."

Players were amazed at Ftorek's composure during their phone conversations a month ago. They couldn't believe that Ftorek put their feelings ahead of his own during his time of need.

"He's really caring," said second-year player Travis Wood, whom Ftorek took to his first NHL game a season ago. "All the players see it. They know that Robbie cares a lot." (Erie Times-News)

Anna Ftorek, one of Wendy and Robbie Ftorek's four children, had taken after her father by coaching youth soccer. No matter how probability-based one's mind is, there is little way to reconcile why someone so young is gone. Junior hockey and amateur sport has had famous instances of teams which overcame a death in the family to reach new heights. The Windsor Spitfires won two MasterCard Memorial Cups in the two seasons after captain Mickey Renaud died in 2008. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's basketball title in 2010, less than a year and a half after 19-year-old guard Brennan Jarrett died during emergency surgery.

Learning of Ftorek's drive to keep on keeping on will add to the feel-good element of whatever progress the Otters can make in the OHL this season.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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